January 3, 2013

2013 theatre resolution: turning ideas into action

I'll be the first to admit that it's really easy for me to get lost into thinking so much about something that I forget that I can do something with it. First of all, the inside of my head is an incredibly fascinating place to be. Second of all, I'm often beset by crippling insecurity, which makes it hard to trust and act on my vision of things. I know this needs to change.

I've used a lot of pixels to talk about diversity in theatre, especially when it comes to race, but I have to confess something: I'm tired of saying the same damn thing. I'm tired of listening to the same damn thing. If, at this point, anybody is still not convinced that diversity is a real problem that requires real effort to fix, there's nothing I can say now that will change their mind. So why waste my time? At this point, diversity in theatre would be better served by me simply creating and putting up my own stuff than participating in any conversation how important diversity is.

That's not to say that discussion is meaningless. Just Do It might work well for a Nike slogan, but I do think that the best actions are those that come from creating a vision, clarifying core principles, and developing a strategy. That said, I do think we must be careful not to get lost in spinning our wheels and following up with real action.

The sad thing is that I know it can be done. I know because I'm seeing it happen in the synagogue I'm a member of. Several people on my synagogue's Anti-Racism Task Force initially came as a way to honor the work and memory of a member who had passed away. However, through several house meetings, we got a real sense of who we were and where we wanted to go. Then we got the Board involved, and that led to several of us participating in an Undoing Racism workshop geared toward religious communities. From there, that led: to a sermon about race for the High Holy Days, organizing house meetings to get more people involved with learning about and doing more with anti-racism at the synagogue, and working with synagogues for Jews of color to make our congregation truly welcoming and inclusive. There is a lot more going on, but I hope you see what I'm getting at.

I must make it clear that most of the people on the Anti-Racism Task Force were not starving artists like me. Most of them were working adults with jobs and families. Most of us don't identify as activists, either. We all come from different backgrounds and life experiences which inform our perspectives. That said, we committed to learning and growing together, and that allowed us to make huge strides in a short amount of time.

This is the experience I want to replicate in theatre. With that in mind, I know I have to make some real decisions.

My first real decision, then, is to only work with people who are committed to anti-racism in theatre. Even if I'm working with an all-women's group or all-LGBTQ organization, experience has taught me that lacking a commitment to anti-racism leads to excluding and exploiting the people of color within these institutions. It's a strategic organizing decision based on how I've seen these things pan out (confirmed by my participation in the Undoing Racism workshop).

This doesn't mean that the whole organization needs to have a complete anti-racist analysis from the onset (though it helps). There are a variety of ways to do this, but putting brown faces on the website doesn't count, nor does tacking on diversity in the mission statement or core values. I need to get a sense that the organization is taking active steps toward learning and growing in that regard. It doesn't have to be anything grand, but if I ask, "What are you doing to make your organization anti-racist?" even something as simple as, "Our Program Director is going to participate in the Undoing Racism Workshop by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond," will mean a lot.

I know this will be more difficult since I'm no longer in NYC, but I'm also still participating in the Task Force despite being hundreds of miles away. There are ways to do this. All I need now are the right people to come with me.